Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Thor Retrospective Part 6: Ragnarok

Coming off of the impressive and long run by Dan Jurgens on Thor, sales had regretably not matched the quality of the series. This isn't that surprising - Jurgens big epic finale of Thor as Lord of Asgard demanded a lot from readers to keep up with. Around this time, Brian Michael Bendis was going to soon launch his career defining moment as writer of New Avengers. Yet to get to the "New" Avengers, the old had be given a finale or sorts. So Avengers: Disassembled was born! In addition to the 4-part story Bendis was writing in the main Avengers title, where Wanda the Scarlet Witch goes crazy and dismantles the team - the solo titles of Captain America, Thor, Spectacular Spider-Man and Iron Man had their own mini-swan songs - clearing the way for new creative teams on all fronts.

Thor's ending was, by far, the most impressive of the entire even - and I believe that is due largely to Michael Avon Oeming. Even though he was only writing the series, with Andrea Divito on art, Oeming came on board with a firm grasp of actual Viking lore. The Comic Book version of Thor, simply put, has never claimed to be exactly like the original myths. There of course have been diversions to try and conform the series more to the various myths, with varying degrees of success. Now, here at the end, Oeming defined Thor's universe, though the lens of the original Viking Myths, to give the Thor series it's most defining hour: that of Ragnarok!

Ragnarok, twilight of the gods, at first seemed like too startling a direction to see the series go in. Understand - when I was originally reading these titles month to month, Dan Jurgens epic Thor run had finally ended - and just on the cusp of the original Thor universe returning, nothing less than the annihlation of Asgard takes place!

Immediately, though, I knew how different and impressive this new series was going to be. What happened in Dan Jurgens run was not forgotten - as Thor, still Lord of Asgard, retains the memories of his elder self. He mourns the loss of his son, Magni, who now was never born. Asgard is now back in the heavens like it was before, with things supposedly going back to the status quo.

While Thor is busy with the duties as ruler, Loki had been taking advantage to sit at the the world seat, where Odin was once able to view everything in the 9 realms. Loki is searching for something very specific - something he would never be able to find on his own otherwise. Eitri, the Dwarf craftsman who had forged Thor's hammer Mjolnir, had supposedly lost the mold be had used to create that powerful weapon. Able to see all the 9 realms, Loki is able to discover the location of the mold.

A month later the Asgardians are in Mir-Krul, a rock based temple - where Thor and his friends are paying tribute to the passing of Eitri the Dwarf. (I'm not sure wether or not Eitri was killed by Loki, in obtaining the mold.)

Before anyone knows it, everything begins to shake and collapse. A flying boat crashes into the rock face - with Loki and an army of villains at his side.

Having obtained the mold of Eitri, Loki had the help of Surtur (who had revived since being killed by Odin) to forge weapons similar to Thor's hammer. Each of the villains there all held a hammer, including Loki himself.

Ulik the troll, and Fenris the Wolf Demon attack! (Of note, Fenris was a new villain to me -- but I was delighted that it was accurately pointed out that he is a son of Loki.)

Casualties are immediate; the Enchantress is dead, and Sif looses her left arm. Each attack of the enemies with their hammers is deflected by Thor - but the clashing of the similar hammers is blinding. Soon enough Thor is fighting against multiple foes - all striking his hammer, until Mjolnir finally shatters and breaks apart. Injured and facing even more menaces - Thor uses what remains of his hammer to transport him to Midgard - calling for the Avengers to Assemble!

Thor eventually returns to Asgard, now in the company of his two friends Iron Man and Captain America. They travel to the main city of Asgard, and are horrified to see the once shining city in ruins. Loki and his menacing horad are on hand - but Captain America and Iron Man are able fight back against them. Iron Man proves a match to fend off Loki's magics, and Captain America takes down Fenris. Thor is even able to steal one of the enemies' hammers. Loki and his group retreat. A young boy is saved among the wreckage and carried by Thor. Thor continues his search for his people - for besides the boy they are not to be found in the ruins of Asgard.

Thor eventually finds a gathering of survivors - but is saddened to see a long propheised death, that the gathered people are mourning over. Balder the Brave lies dead. Thor is told what happened - that Loki and his forces had come with hammers like Mjolnir. The dead where also invading, coming from Hel on a boat made of the fingernails of dead warriors. Each of these dead soldiers carried a spear, with the head made of mistletoe dipped in gold. (These details are closer to the original myths, and how Balder was prophesised to die, signaling Ragnarok.) Thor tells Iron Man and Captain America that there is no question, that this is Ragnarok - and as mortals they cannot be here for the end. Thor sends them back to Midgard - and rallies the people together - to face the end of days like warriors born!

Two months have passed, when Thor runs into one of his long lost friends: Volstagg. Volstagg, along with Sif, Hogun and Fandral, had been attacked by the Barge of the Dead, and only Volstagg was able to survive. He has been traveling aimlessly in the wintery woods for a very long time -- so long that he has lost a tremendous amount of weight from starvation. Once called Volstagg the Voluminous, he is now Volstagg the skinny. If ever there was a sign that it was the end of days, this was it.

Arriving in another kingdom, Thor and Volstagg find it overrun with giants and Trolls - lead by Fenris. Amazingly Sif is among the warriors fighting back! Volstagg had told Thor that he hadn't found Sif's body after the attack - so she must have survived and eventually made her way up here.

The battle is fierce - but Fenris is finally brought down by a very unexpected vistor: Beta Ray Bill has returned!

After the fighting, and everyone has gathered together, Thor finds that the young boy he had been traveling with had sadly died during the battle. Thor now knows there is more he must do. To be a true leader to his people, he would need more knowledge and power. A vision of the young boy, glowing in light and accompanied by two ravens, appears before Thor. This is the Odin Force, appearing to him to guide his journey.

Thor knows that he must now adscend to the hights Odin once traveled. Traveling upon the branches of World Tree Yggdrasil, Thor comes to the well, where Odin once gave up his eye, to obtain wisdom. Cautious about what he must sacrifice, Thor uses the Odin Force to percieve what he must do. The gaining of wisdom, like Odin had done, required sacrifice. So Thor similarly rips out an eye, and drops it down the well. Nothing happens.

Thor is angry, saying he was a fool to do this -- to which the vision of the young boy replies, that to travel the same path as his father means nothing. Thor must go beyond the sacrifice Odin made. Daring all, Thor rips out his other eye, and drops it into the well. The well, once baren and dry, now overflows with water. Splashing it into his face, and where his eyes once where, Thor now percieves everything. As for sight, the two ravens act as his eyes - one on each solder.

The next task is to face death - to gain the knowledge and understanding of the Runes - giving him the ability to see both the past and future. Thor hangs himself from a branch, much like Odin once did to obtain knowledge.

At the last second Thor resists, breaking his noose and falls down. He saw what he needed to see; and though death over takes him, and Hela appears before him to aquire his soul, Thor is able to draw a rune in the ground to summon the Odin Force, which saves him and restores him to life.

Inbetween life and death, Thor awakens in complete darkness - with large illuminated figures sitting above him. These are "They Who Sit Above In Shadows" - supposedly entinties even higher than the Asgardians, who have thrived and nourished themselves on the cycle of Ragnarok, Rebirth, Ragnarok, ect. It has never been detailed in any exact manner - but it is suggested that there have been multiple iterations of Asgard - forever forced throughout history to repeat the same events over and over. Thor is appaled by this, and threatens these loftier demi-gods, telling him they will no longer repeat a meaningless cycle! Asgardians never fear death - but instead fear death without meaning. This is the ultimate in astonishments for Thor to learn.

Returning to Asgard, Thor goes out to find his brother Loki. Fighting against more fearsome beasts, Thor handidly defeats Loki. Telling his brother that since he has taken the lives of so many men,  he will be made less than a man; Thor slices off Loki's head - using the power of the runes to keep him alive. Tied to his belt Thor continues on.

The Odin Force comments that Thor has truly surpassed him, as he can no longer see what Thor is going to do next. The reason behind this is because of the humanity Thor gained with the likes of Don Blake and Jake Olsen.

Next stop - a visit to Surtur,  Thor asks Surtur to repair and reforge his broken hammer. Surtur says if he did that, Thor would only strike him down with said weapon. Thor responds that he will not - saying that Surtur's successful campaign to kill everyone is a nessessary step towards fulfilling Ragnarok. Loki cries foul, as Surtur does as he is asked. Although Thor has the ability to reforge the power of the hammer himself, he sees great symbolism in having the creature who killed his father, repair Mjolnir - much in the mythic tradition.

Now with his hammer reforged, Thor allows Surtur to carry on. Surtur is finally able to achieve the goal he has always sought after: to burn the 9 worlds in fire!

Thor's friends and allies all fight valiantly - to the death. Surtur's and his army fulfill the requirements of Ragnarok. Thor, though, makes one exception; against his protests, Thor removes Beta Ray Bill from the realm; as an alien, his destiny is not to die in Ragnarok - and in addition Thor also says someone must survive to remember their deeds.

The final task takes place at the base of Yggdrasil - where a final, and true, ending to Ragnarok will be made! Three cloaked women command a loom, weaving an intercit cloth rising all the way to the top of Yggdrasil, detailing the entire Asgardian history.

These are the Fates, who weave destiny -- they say Thor has no power here. Thor protests, pointing out something he shouldn't have previously been ever able to see - a single stand hidden behind the loom recycles the weave from beginning to end. This is the cycle Thor seeks to stop - this is the cycle that has robbed the meaning and honor from every Ragnarok ever experienced by his people.

They Who Sit Above In Shadows cry out for Thor to stop - Loki is similarly screaming his head off! (literally!) Yet this is what Odin had planned all along! When Odin has cast Thor down to Earth, bound to a mortal body; this action had many purposes. One, to teach Thor humility. But a much more farther reaching plan was to allow Thor to see outside the cycle Odin and Asgard where trapped in. Gifted with the human perspective, Thor is able to see and destroy the string - ending the cycle!

Thus Ragnarok is completed - as Thor finally rests, in the void of nothingness. He will sleep for now. For a while, at least.

A LONG while after....

Marvel had planned to reboot Thor and give the series a new start, after Avengers Disassembled. That plan, obviously, fell through. So thus Thor remained dead -- a regular Thor title was missing from Marvel's line-up for years.

We saw a hint, though, of a possible return for Thor. During the Super Human Civil War - Thor unexpectedly appeared, fighting on Iron Man's side, and against Captain America and the resistance. This seemed out of character for Thor -- is ever there was a character who would have rebelled against Super Human Registration, it would be Thor.

Turns out - this isn't Thor. Mr. Fantastic, Iron Man, and Hank Pym managed to clone a god - taking the DNA of Thor, and using it to create a half-clone, half robotic Thor.

This Thor Clone would ultimately be defeated at the end of the Civil War, struck down by Hercules who yelled out "Thou art No Thor!", which seemed very gratifying - having this fake taken out of the picture. However, the Cloned Thor would pop up every now and again in other titles in the future - now named Ragnarok. Ragnarok is even due to appear as a member of the new Dark Avengers, as part of a revamp of the Thunderbolts series.

After the appearance of the fake Thor, there would still be a while before the real Thor Returned -- though seeds for that where already being planted. J. Michael Straczynski was writing the Fantastic Four at the time - and introduced a slowly revealing subplot, of a hammer that had fallen out of the sky down to Earth, in Broxton Oklahoma. The Fantastic Four respond to the event, and are horrified to find that Doctor Doom has return from Hell - apparently being able to grab onto Thor's hammer as it fell through dimensions, one of which Doom was trapped in. Doom believes because of the contact he had with the hammer, which lead him out of his dimensional Hell, that it might be enough to allow him to wield the hammer, but he isn't able to.

After Doom retreats, Ben Grimm takes the opportunity and tries and pick up the hammer. (The Thing is a great guy, but apparently not hammer-worthy.) People from miles around would come and try their hand in lifting the hammer - always to no avail. That is until a man in a suit, carrying a briefcase with the initials D.B. came and picked up the hammer.

Next up, the proper return of Thor by J. Michael Straczynski!

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